Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

September 30, 2012

Viva La Orphelines!

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , — jenniferkathleen @ 7:58 pm

To celebrate Jennifer’s Becoming Clementine making her debut, her blog is taking a French state of mind. Ah, France! Home of Edith Piaf, french bread, croissants, french braids, viva la France!

Oddly when I think of France, I think of the Happy Orphelines. You might be scratching your head, thinking what are the happy orphelines?  Merde! You never heard of them! Tsk, tsk!



The happy orphelines woudn’t hang out with Annie or Harry Potter. Maybe they would, but they wouldn’t get why they were so sad about having no parents. They were happy about being orphans (orphelines is what they are called in France) They were well fed, well dressed, and went on field trips around Paris; touring the sewers (yes, this was an actual field trip, hard to believe)  walking around Paris, having a lovely time.


I loved the books for the stories of course, and the fact that several of the books were done by Garth Williams. I loved Charlotte’s Web, so I knew his drawing style right away. I remember noticing Bridgette and Fern looked alike with their coloring; I almost wondered (and I know this is awful of me) if Mr. Arable was in France during the war. Can we prove that he might’ve fathered a little girl? Who knows? Oh, I went there. Yes, I’ve watched too many soap operas in my time. But there is a similarity.

When I was older I was surprised that Natalie Savage Carlson was not French. She grew up in the South (and wrote a middle grade novel about race relations) yet all the orpheline books are set in France, along with The Family under the Bridge, another middle grade novel that won a Newberry Honor and made into a musical written by Kathie Lee Gifford.
What I loved about the orpheline books is that they loved their lives. Yes, it would be great to have parents, but they had Madame (the woman who ran the orphanage) they had Therese the helper. What more could they want? The orphanage they lived in was falling down all around them, but they had each other. They accepted life as it was. Sometimes that is incredibly hard to do. I’ve been bummed this past week; a possible writing opportunity has been delayed. However, I remembered the orphelines. They accepted whatever was thrown at them, and were grateful for the small things. For me I realized a delay did not mean it was over, kaput. It’s just a delay. Nothing more, nothing less.

When I was little and my mother was done with a book she was reading to me, I would say “Make more!” I wanted more of the story, more of the author. I felt like that when I realized there were no more orphelines books for me to read. But they are forever alive, walking in Paris, happy in the knowledge they were together.


September 12, 2012


Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — phoebe @ 12:50 am

In the midst of Apple’s reveal today here is a list of the best writing and reading apps for your iPhones and iPads.

1. 3D Classic Literature Collection –  World’s first 3D book flipping held in your hands.

2. Collected Works – Classic literary pieces, from Alice in Wonderland to War and Peace, available right from your iPhone

3. Evernote – Organise notes, and basically anything else. Available on and offline and syncs between all your devices. Great for college students!

4. British Library 19th Century Collection – 100 free available titles.

5. Red Laser Barcode Scanner – Scan a barcode of a book and find the closest library, purchase online, or near by store.

6. iBooks, Kindle and Nook App – For reading on the go!

7. ElectricLit – A quarterly release of some of the best writers and their short stories.

8. Wattpad – The Youtube for readers and writers. Share and discover stories.


January 23, 2012

Why I Love Book Clubs

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , , , — jennifer @ 11:41 am

Sometime last April, months before Velva Jean Learns to Fly was published, I received an email from a woman named Linda Newby, a travel agent in Anaheim, California, telling me how much she loved the book. Through a good friend with ties to Penguin, Linda had come across an advanced reading copy (we call them ARCs) of Fly and was particularly drawn to it because she is a private pilot who wanted to fly from a young age.

In August, she wrote me again to tell me about her book club and to ask if I might be able to attend if they chose Velva Jean as one of their reads. I said of course! I talk to book clubs whenever I can– usually, depending on where on this globe the club is located, by conference call– because there is nothing better than meeting readers and hearing an impassioned discussion about characters you’ve created.

On Thursday I pulled myself out of 1946 and took the time to get my hair blown out by an actual professional so I would look presentable and not like a writer deep in the throes of researching and outlining. My boyfriend baked bread and we braved the traffic down to Anaheim, where we spent the most delightful three and a half hours with the most delightful group of women this side of my family. Linda, our host, had decorated her gorgeous home with model airplanes and flying-related knickknacks. Then there was the food! The wine! The crackling fire in the fireplace!

Best of all was the women themselves and the rather heated and in-depth discussion of Learns to Fly. Book clubs are terrific reminders of why it is I do what I do. Even when the ladies were arguing over Butch Dawkins and what he should ultimately mean to Velva Jean– some like him, some don’t like him– it’s a strange, surreal, Christmas-Day-kind-of-feeling to sit and listen to readers discuss so passionately, so enthusiastically, so insightfully characters and a story I’ve created.

After dinner and before dessert, I read the first chapter of the new Velva Jean book to them (her daring and dangerous spy tale, to be released in August). The book is still being edited, so this was the first time sharing it with anyone outside of my editor and my early readers. I fought the urge to mark a few things as I read– little things that I’ll tweak when the copy edits come back to me next week– and instead, I just focused on reading. The book club was a wonderful audience, attentive, appreciative, and warm. Velva Jean and I felt very welcomed.

I left Linda’s house not only feeling energized from the lovely evening and the dynamic, engaging company, but from being part of their discussion. I also left with new insights– not just into Fly but into Velva Jean and all that lies ahead for her. As I move forward on Velva Jean’s next adventure, it makes me look with a kind of renewed clarity at her, at Butch, at Johnny Clay (who inspired a very fluttery and collective group sigh), at others she may interact with, at what she will do and where she will go. And as I settle back in at my desk (as I did Friday, Sunday, today), knowing those readers are out there waiting to see what I’ll come up with makes me gladder than ever to be here.

January 11, 2012

Behind the Book — Creating a Character

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , — jennifer @ 8:31 pm

I spent yesterday at the Central Library downtown, gathering the most enormous armful of books you’ve ever seen on everything from Darryl Zanuck to Louella Parsons to a history of Los Angeles itself. I spent today at my desk, constructing a timeline for the book– listing every interesting event or incident that happened in L.A. during the late 1940s. It’s my map of the time period and the place. Once I have all the info down, I can start weaving Velva Jean’s story into it.

The other thing I did was start to sculpt a new character. Not just any character, but one who will figure prominently into Velva Jean’s Hollywood story. So far, he’s stumped me. And because he’s going to be pretty pivotal to the plot, I need him figured out before I can go much further.

One of the ways I get inspiration is to read real stories. I scour books and internet sites and newspaper articles from the time. I make note after note and play with idea after idea. He could be this, he could be that. Maybe he’s an actor. Maybe he’s a famous actor! Maybe he’s a director. Maybe he’s a singer or a big band conductor. Maybe he has nothing to do with movies or music at all. While I’m scouring, I’m trying out every version and possibility I can think of. Time after time, for the past few weeks, I’ve been hitting the proverbial brick wall.

Last night I opened one of those library books– one I picked up almost by accident– and there on the pages was my character. I knew him on sight. He was the one I’d been looking for.

The book I’m talking about was actually written by him, and as I was reading I thought: I can’t improve on the real man. I wouldn’t change a thing about him. Here’s the thing though: it’s tricky writing a real person into a piece of fiction if you’re going to use that real person for a major character. You’re not required to change the identity if the person is a public figure– as my mom says, you really have to use your judgment– but in a case like this, I felt it was best.

So I gave him a new name and then I opened up Scrivener (where I like to create my character sketches) (when I create actual character sketches). I wrote down everything about the real character that I liked and found compelling, and as I did so I suddenly could see the story and see him in it. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was leaving the real person behind and the character was taking over. I could hear his voice. I could see his mannerisms. I could imagine him in all different scenarios and scenes, both with and without Velva Jean. I knew where he came from. I knew what he thought about before he went to sleep at night. I knew him on a bad day and a good one.

When an idea takes hold like this, you know it’s a good one– the right one. Because it leads you down the road to more discoveries. It opens the story right up to you and suddenly– just like that, just like the clouds are clearing away– you can see it.

The last thing I did, after the creative burst began to subside (pages and pages later), was to experiment with names. I’m still playing with his name because names are important. They have to sound authentic to the character. They have to ring true. I think I’ve found it, but I want to live with it for a day or two before I commit. The very last thing I did was cast my character. This meant I got to do one of my favorite things– sort through Google images of actors from the 1930s and 1940s. I looked at everyone from Robert Mitchum to Tyrone Power to Clark Gable to William Powell. I had to find just the right pose, just the right expression so that I wouldn’t look at the picture and think of the actor, but I would think of my character instead. In other words, I was using the actor much as I’d used the real-life man: as inspiration to go from.

Finally I found him. And while I’d love to post him here, I can’t reveal him yet because he’s still too fresh, too new, and I need to keep him close.

But I’m newly energized. Even as I turned off my office lights for the day and went on to eat dinner and do dishes and play with the cats, the character is working for me. I keep thinking: Oh! And then he can do this. Oh! And then he can do that. And he and Velva Jean will see each other here, and then here, and then they can do this, and then they’ll do that, and then, and then, and then… And, before I know it, I’m back at my computer, making more notes.